Broken Language

The “beer nerd” can be pretentious and annoying. Reading pedantic and bombastic beer reviews can be insufferable. But, the existence of this highfalutin drivel might actually serve a greater purpose.

Hip hop has grown to become the dominant global pop culture, yet despite the occasional Hamilton outlier, it remains relatively segregated to the artistic ghetto. Many still don’t consider rap to be “real music” and don’t see a lack of familiarity with even the most seminal artists as a cultural blind spot of note. Why is this?

I would argue that language itself is a significant factor in the gulf between hip hop’s cultural influence and artistic standing and acceptance. Specifically, the manner in which something is discussed greatly influences how it is perceived. Given the ubiquity of hip hop music and culture, there appears a relative dearth of scholarly, poetic, and critically analytical discourse surrounding it. There aren’t enough successful people in the mainstream speaking personally and passionately about the impact of hip hop in their lives.

While some of that kind of discussion can also ring a bit precious, it goes a long way to legitimize culture and art to the masses. We’ve seen this happen with previous generations of music, morphing from sex, drugs, and rock and roll to revered artistry, and birthing cultural touchpoints with which we are all supposed to be familiar. The evolution of the discourse around the music was a substantial driver of that transition.

Nowhere is the notion of language influencing perception more familiar than when it comes to food and drink. You can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a pureed nut spread with grape relish reduction on artisan brioche.

Food and drink is not only tasted, but experienced. So, the way a beer is represented is part of the priming of that experience. This is especially relevant for a restaurant or bar. Ideally, a description of a beer will communicate its vital stats as well as a bit of insight into its flavors in an accessible, descriptive, and succinct manner.

big_pun‘Language is fatal and it’s hypnotizing. I’m only emphasizing, I’m all about business and enterprising.” – Big Punisher

My last post touched on the fact that beer has remained in the alcoholic beverage underclass. The emergence and now unprecedented growth of the craft beer movement is a huge step in evolving the perception of beer, but the existence of these products is not enough on its own. Changing the discourse around beer is an important next step as well.

Have you ever been to a nice restaurant with an extensive wine list and asked your server about their beers, only to get a list of six generic, bland beers, five of which are the same varietal (usually lager)? Implicit in this kind of offering is the assumption that a beer is a beer. Some of the nerdy beer talk plays a role in forcing people to re-examine that naïve premise, which – in turn – leads to better and more diverse offerings for consumers.

So, when I read forced beer review that waxes poetic about notes of caramel, pure golden hues, aromatic complexity, and a crisp finish, I try to also keep in mind that if this was how we spoke about beer more broadly, it would be very rare to walk into a decent restaurant and be unable to get a good beer.

One comment

  1. Nice piece, Derek.
    Though I don’t drink anymore myself, I appreciate your insight into class and language and how it plays into both our experiences and how the world views and treats things. How we describe and discuss can indeed shift vantage points.

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